Marine Plastics

A sample of microplastics less than 5mm in size taken from the Pacific Ocean. Microplastics are of concern because they can be easily digested.

A close-up view of a sample of microplastics taken from the Pacific Ocean. Microplastics are of concern because they can be easily ingested by marine life. Image by Max Liboiron, used with permission.

The Question
What are the impacts of marine plastics on our food chain?

Background
Plastics have been found in every ocean in the world as well as in the Great Lakes. Most of these plastics are less than 5mm in size and can be easily ingested by many forms of marine life, from plankton to birds. Research has shown that marine plastics absorb oily chemicals, generating dense concentrations of toxins up to a million times more than surrounding water. These chemicals, as well as the ones that are already in plastics, are then absorbed by the animals that eat them. The chemicals accumulate at the top of the food chain, affecting humans. Aboriginal communities whose traditional diets include marine mammals face higher risk of contamination. Many of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors, which act like hormones in human and animal bodies. See below for more information.

Your Letter to Federal Scientists and Ministers

Dear Scientists,

Thank you for your research monitoring toxins and their movements through animals and the environment. Canadians are concerned about the impacts of marine plastics on their health and the health of marine ecosystems. Given your expertise in this area, I want to ask: How are marine plastics contributing to the accumulation of contaminants in individual animals? In what ways are marine plastics complicating current methods of analysis for bioaccumulation? How are contaminants being magnified as they move through marine and human food chains? What do your findings tell us about the implications of marine plastics for human health?

I am writing this email as part of Write2Know (http://write2know.ca) a letter-writing campaign that aims to mobilize public awareness and inquiry into federal research programs. We want to let you know that we value federal science and scientists, and that our questions arise out of genuine concerns about the health and well-being of Canadians.

We remain concerned about the legacy of constraints on access to federal scientists and the results of their research, the elimination of essential research programs, and the closure of libraries and archives. These constraints and closures have impacted what Canadians can and cannot know about the health of their bodies, communities, and environments. We are hopeful that a new government will address our concerns.

I look forward to your response.
Sincerely,

[Your name]

cc.
Dr. Craig E. Hebert, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
Dr. Brad Hill, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
Dr. Kim Fernie, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
Dr. Doug Crump, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
Dr. Neil Burgess, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
Dr. Lisa Bradley, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
Dr. Sean Backus, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
Dr. Daryl McGoldrick, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development
Hon. Jane Philpott, Minister of Health
Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Hon. Hunter Tootoo, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science

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Add Your Signature to the Letter on Marine Plastics in Food Webs

Dear Scientists and Ministers,

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157Arn KeelingSt. John's, NLMar 25, 2015
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117Paul BainesToronto, OntarioMar 23, 2015
116Maggie SutherlandSt. John's, Newfoundland and LabradorMar 23, 2015
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100Nathalie BrunetTorbay, Newfoundland & LabradorMar 21, 2015
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98Heather MollesonWhitby, OntarioMar 20, 2015
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93Shawn MackinnonBrooklyn, NYMar 19, 2015
92Bonnie NorthBarrie, OntarioMar 19, 2015
91Dr. Tanya DahmsRegina, SaskatchewanMar 19, 2015
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89Joseph BennettBrisbane, QueenslandMar 19, 2015
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87Donna MartinLake Cowichan, British ColumbiaMar 19, 2015
86Robyn BrownFort Smith, NTMar 19, 2015
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77Sandra WidmerToronto, OntarioMar 18, 2015
76Charlie MacLeodLaSalle, QuebecMar 18, 2015
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42Peter ConstantinidisOshawa, OntarioMar 15, 2015
41Angela CopeOshawa, OntarioMar 15, 2015
40Jillian SmithMar 15, 2015
39Pamela SmithToronto, ONMar 15, 2015
38Christianne StephensHamilton, OntarioMar 14, 2015
37Ailsa CraigSt. John's, NLMar 14, 2015
36Michael HooperDonkin, Nova ScotiaMar 14, 2015
35Michael Oman-ReaganMar 13, 2015
34jody BerlandToronto, ONMar 13, 2015
33Stuart BasdenToronto, OntarioMar 13, 2015
32Marilyn MarshallStratford, ONMar 13, 2015
31Michael ZrydToronto, OntarioMar 13, 2015
30carol farkastoronto, Choose a provinceMar 13, 2015
29Bret HamptonKimberley, BCMar 13, 2015
28Brian OwensSt Stephen, NBMar 13, 2015
27Lisa HowseSaskatoon, SaskatchewanMar 13, 2015
26Troy OgdenRegina, SKMar 13, 2015
25Martin MyersToronto, ONMar 13, 2015
24Magdalena Kazubowski-HoustonToronto, ONMar 12, 2015
23elizaBeth SimpsonUrbana, IllinoisMar 12, 2015
22Margrit EichlerToronto, OntarioMar 12, 2015
21Alison SymeToronto, OntarioMar 12, 2015
20Miguel Daraîche-LeblancMontréal, QuebecMar 12, 2015
19Charles MaurerToronto, ONMar 12, 2015
18Karen LaPrairie Whitehorse , YukonMar 12, 2015
17Kira TurnerCambridge, OntarioMar 12, 2015
16patricia StewartMar 12, 2015
15Meghan Rose AllenSackville, New BrunswickMar 12, 2015
14Leitha Haysommahone bay, nova scotiaMar 11, 2015
13Mara MillsNew York, NYMar 11, 2015
12Lina PintoToronto, ONMar 11, 2015
11Callum C. J. SutherlandToronto, OntarioMar 11, 2015
10Michael MillsToronto, ONMar 11, 2015
9Michael BrewerToronto, OnMar 11, 2015
8Ayelen LiberonaTorontoMar 11, 2015
7Lauren SmithWhitby, OntarioMar 11, 2015
6Devon MollesonWhitby, OntarioMar 11, 2015
5Natasha MyersToronto, OntarioMar 11, 2015
4Tony AdamsMelbourne, VictoriaMar 11, 2015
3Samantha ReidOshawa, OntarioMar 11, 2015
2Gina MollesonSt. John's, Newfoundland and LabradorMar 11, 2015
1Max LiboironSt. John's, NewfoundlandMar 11, 2015

More Information

Andreas Merkl. 2015. “Ocean Plastic Is Likely Disappearing into the Food Chain, New Study Indicates.” The Guardian.
Algalita Marine Research Foundation. “Plastic Debris Delivers Triple Toxic Whammy, Ocean Study Shows| Marine Research and Education.” 2015. Algalita.
Seltenrich, Nate. 2015. “New Link in the Food Chain? Marine Plastic Pollution and Seafood Safety.” Environmental Health Perspectives 123 (2).
Boerger, Christiana M., Gwendolyn L. Lattin, Shelly L. Moore, and Charles J. Moore. 2010. “Plastic Ingestion by Planktivorous Fishes in the North Pacific Central Gyre.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 60 (12): 2275–78.
Rochman, Chelsea M., Eunha Hoh, Tomofumi Kurobe, and Swee J. Teh. 2013. “Ingested Plastic Transfers Hazardous Chemicals to Fish and Induces Hepatic Stress.” Scientific Reports 3 (November).
Stromberg, Joesph. 2013. “How Plastic Pollution Can Carry Flame Retardants Into Your Sushi.” 2015. Smithsonian. Accessed March 9.

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